An exhausting proposition for an audience to sit through such an enraging narrative.
In The Kingmaker, her follow-up to the similarly frustrating documentary The Queen of Versailles, director Lauren Greenfield provides an illuminating and intimate portrait of Imelda Marcos, the former First Lady of the Philippines. While the film offers relevant insight into the Marcos family history, given their recent resurgence in Duterte’s reign, it’s an infuriating viewing experience that can’t end soon enough.
Greenfield utilizes a well-worn structure, sticking at first to Imelda’s perspective with tight confessionals, melodramatic voiceover narration and maudlin, self-serving diatribe. Then, as the ridiculous cracks in her self-mythologizing begin to show, she fills those cracks in with the rest of reality, outlining the larger narrative of how former President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife reigned over the Philippines for decades, bleeding the country dry to the tune of $5-10 billion. In light of these historical details, it makes earlier “sincere” moments with Imelda feel like outtakes from a Christopher Guest film.
As we watch her tour a children’s ward at a hospital in the present day, handing ailing youths money while faking tears, it’s easy to chuckle at how absurd and on-the-nose image this is for the galling disparity between how rich people see the world and how the world actually is. But the more bullshit she spews in stark contrast to the actuality of what she and her family did to this country she claims to love, the more difficult it becomes to make it to The Kingmaker’s end credits.
Around the midway mark, an activist earnestly asks, “Why do we allow Imelda Marcos to open her mouth?” The activist in question is talking about the current day, where, after being run out of the country for hoarding government funds, silencing political opponents and evicting countless citizens to make space for a glorified fucking zoo, Imelda Marcos and her idiot son Bongbong have returned to the land they spent years pillaging for one of the worst mainstream resurgences in the history of mainstream resurgences. This activist can accept them coming home, can comfortably write off their continued existence in their homeland, but she cannot abide them having the audacity to flaunt the very wealth they robbed from the citizenry.
Along similar lines, the sheer amount of this film’s running time devoted to letting Imelda speak feels like a misstep. In the first act, sure, let her run her mouth and then set up the remaining screen time counteracting those lies. As Imelda herself says in the film, “Perceptions are real. Truth is not.” Greenfield tries to draw a line in the sand about post-fact society, about the vast chasm between what people with money and power pretend to be the truth versus what the truth really is.
But in a time where so many films seek to say the exact same thing, whether stateside about Trumpism or abroad regarding similar regimes, it’s an exhausting proposition for an audience to sit through such an enraging narrative that, spoiler alert, doesn’t end with the remaining Marcoses meeting a robust firing squad filmed in 60fps. The Kingmaker is intriguing, sure, and is exactly the kind of documentary middle class centrists will pat themselves on the back for applauding, but it doesn’t accomplish much more than fomenting profound anger, something the average viewer in 2019 can muster all on their own by just walking outside for any appreciable amount of time.